The following story was reported during The Student Journalist Program’s five-day Summer Newsroom Workshop in August, 2016.
Historically red, and considered over the past decade to be a bona fide swing state, Virginia is quickly turning blue. In both 2008 and 2012, Barack Obama won over 50% of the vote in the state—a large feat given that the state had supported Republican candidates in the past 10 elections. Of all the counties within Virginia, few are as integral to the state’s electoral outcome as Loudoun County, which could now be Democratic enough to pave the way for a Hillary Clinton victory within the Commonwealth.
Many northern Virginia counties voted with the Democrats in 2004, and a few went blue as far back as 2000. Loudoun County, however, only started voting with the Democrats in 2008. The last Democratic candidate voters chose before that was Lyndon B. Johnson.
The recentness of Loudoun’s shift to the left combined with its presently booming real-estate market—which in 2016 is performing the best it has since the 2008 recession—made it a point of interest for many political strategists looking to predict Virginia’s behavior overall for the tumultuous 2016 election.
Virginia’s northeastern counties and cities, which maintain stronger connections to the District and tend to be more urban—including Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, Falls Church, Loudoun, Manassas, and Winchester—all cast a majority of their votes for Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012. The southernmost counties in the state tend mostly red, although areas containing urban sectors and heavy minority populations like Chesapeake, Charlottesville (the city that voted most overwhelmingly for Obama in 2008 in the entire state, at 79 percent) and Fredericksburg voted blue as well.
Minority voters, especially African-Americans and Hispanics, tend to lean and vote Democratic. Accordingly, the influx of minority voters over the past few years into the state has strengthened Democratic numbers. According to census data, from 2010 to 2015, the Hispanic population in the Old Dominion has grown from 7.9 percent to 9 percent, and the Asian population has seen a similar increase from 5.5 percent to 6.5 percent. Virginia’s African-American population has shown a more modest increase—from 19.4 percent to 19.7 percent of the state’s population—and the percentage of non-Hispanic whites in the state has dropped from 64.8 to 62.7.
Axiom Strategies, a Kansas City-based political consulting firm, named Loudoun County one of seven ‘Battleground Counties’ in the United States based on the county’s mirroring of every Presidential election result since 2000 and its location in a highly contested state.
Quentin Kidd, politics professor at Virginia’s Christopher Newport University, echoed a similar sentiment: “Loudoun in particular is one of the five to seven most important swing counties in the entire United States,” he said.
Axiom’s polling indicated on June 6 that Clinton held an eight-point lead in the county over competitor Donald Trump. This lead had dropped, by July 15, to three points. That doesn’t take into account, however, Trump’s botched appeal to Loudoun voters at the county’s Briar Woods High School on August 2—where he indicated that the county was “doing lousy” despite being the wealthiest in the nation.
The Real Clear Politics average for Virginia, which summarizes polling throughout July, has Clinton sitting ahead, 44 percent to 37 percent. A CBSNews poll published August 7—the first Virginia poll published since Trump’s appearance in Loudoun—taken from August 2 to 5 showed Clinton beating Trump 49 percent to 37 percent.
These figures alone might seem a good enough indication to some that Trump’s chances Virginia are largely sunk. The cards are stacked against him in Loudoun in particular to begin with—Loudoun County has the eleventh-highest concentration of Muslim-Americans of all counties in the United States, according to the Association of Religious Data Archives.
“[Donald Trump]’s message does not resonate with most of Loudouners, period,” said David Ramadan, a former Republican member of the Virginia House of Delegates who represented parts of Loudoun County. “This includes, especially, Arab-Americans, Muslim-Americans, Indian-Americans and Asian-Americans. His message of fear, fascism and divide doesn’t resonate with any of these groups.”
Trump’s anti-immigration stances tends to resonate poorly with both Muslims and Hispanics, whose numbers have also surged in Loudoun—as of 2015, Hispanics represented 13.6 percent of Loudoun’s population, up from 12.4 percent in 2010 and 5.9 percent in 2000, according to U.S. Census records.
Another roadblock facing the Trump campaign within Loudoun is the mixed support he’s receiving from county representatives. Republican Barbara Comstock, a former Virginia House of Delegates member and the current Congressman from Virginia’s 10th district (which encompasses the entirety of Loudoun County), has publicly denounced Trump. Trump personally donated $3,000 to the Comstock campaign in 2014; in 2016, Comstock gave it away to two local veterans’ charities.
However, Dave LaRock, a Republican who currently represents parts of Loudoun in the House of Delegates, believes Trump’s policies hold specific benefit for Loudoun’s voters. “Many in our community work in national defense, cybersecurity and related fields, and know we can’t trust Clinton to protect our national security,” LaRock said. “Loudoun and Virginia have a large population of veterans, and Trump will make a priority of reforming the veterans’ health system so our veterans can get the care they need and deserve.”
In recent months, campaigns have taken to the ground in the nation’s wealthiest county. Clinton made a stop in South Riding on May 9, where she talked to constituents at the Mug n’ Muffin coffee shop about family issues. The Clinton campaign also sent two surrogates, TV actor Tony Goldwyn and 10th district congressional candidate LuAnn Bennett, on July 6 to Leesburg’s Chimole restaurant in hopes of telling Loudoun voters about Clinton’s record on women’s issues.
Far more publicized than either of the Clinton campaign’s forays into Loudoun, though, was Trump’s rally at Briar Woods High School. Thousands lined up outside the school’s doors to hear the message Trump delivered on military improvements and job creation, and others lined up along the roadside to protest the event.
Can Loudoun expect to be a similar focus for campaigning over the next three months? “Candidates spend more time [in swing states], and campaigns will put more staff in those areas,” Kidd said. “When Trump begins to really staff his campaign, we might start seeing more of his staff.”
Buckle up, Loudoun voters. It could get crazy.